The Painkiller

The Painkiller

If there was a royal drink of the Caribbean it most certainly would be the Painkiller. Not to be fooled by the name, the Painkiller is anything but what the name might suggest.  For example, a numbing drug that removes physical pain from the body. In fact, the cocktail is a very savory cocktail.

Beloved by many, both locals and tourists of the British Virgin Islands, the drink made its way to the global stage and on menus all over the world, thanks in part to being trademarked by Pusser’s Rum. However, it is the tropical drink’s ease of preparation (shaken not blended) and the combination of a high congener rum with fruit juices that keeps aficionados loyal, and new fans enthralled with every first sip.


Pusser’s Rum Painkiller Recipe (1)

Rum– 2.0 oz (60 mL) - Pusser’s Rum

Pineapple juice – 4.0 oz (120 mL)

Orange juice – 1.0 oz (30 mL)

Cream of coconut – 1.0 oz (30 mL)

Fresh grated nutmeg

  • Mix all ingredients together in a shaker on ice and shake vigorously
  • Pour into a big glass, or goblet, filled with crushed ice
  • Grate fresh nutmeg on top and enjoy


Historical Origin

When Daphne Henderson first created the Painkiller in 1971, she likely had no idea she had created an iconic cocktail that would become forever immortalized in cocktail history. The bartender and owner of the Soggy Dollar Bar, a now legendary small beach bar on Jost Van Dyke’s White Bay in the British Virgin Islands, Daphne had done just that. For years boaters journeyed to the small beach bar and would swim ashore to drink her Painkillers at almost a pilgrimage level year after year, paying for cocktails with their water-soaked currency, which the bar was comically named after. However, the cocktail was aptly coined “The Painkiller” because Daphne felt the strength of the cocktail would surely take away anyone’s pain they may be having, especially having just burned a number of calories swimming to shore.

For years, the Painkiller’s recipe lay secret to only her. Until one day one of her pilgrims, Charles Tobias, owner of Pusser’s Rum, deconstructed the cocktail after trying to get the recipe from her for a couple of years. In Charles’ own words, “One Sunday afternoon at the conclusion of a long session of Painkilling, I somehow managed to get one of her concoctions back through the surf and over the gunwale into my boat, and ultimately into my kitchen on Tortola where I live. I went to work, trying to match her flavor as closely as possible with my own recipe which I finally worked out to be ‘4-1-1’ ratio – four parts pineapple, one part cream of coconut and one part orange juice – adding Pusser’s Rum to suit.” While Charles’ version of the Painkiller was not as sweet as Daphne’s recipe it did win a head to head taste-off, as judged by local patrons of the Soggy Dollar Bar. Charles went on to trademark the Painkiller cocktail under the Pusser’s Rum brand name, but he has always given Daphne Henderson credit with a by-line in Pusser’s Rum printed media: AS INSPIRED BY DAPHNE AT THE SOGGY DOLLAR BAR AT WHITE BAY ON JOST VAN DYKE (1). Thanks to Charles Tobias efforts at flavor science, the royal cocktail of the Caribbean is known to the world.

Flavor Profile

The Painkiller cocktail’s complex flavor profile stems from the combination of a high congener rum with tropical fruit juices, pineapple and orange, mixed with coconut. Each one of these ingredients donates powerful aromatic volatile compounds to the cocktail’s overall flavor profile.

When Charles Tobias first incorporated Pusser’s Rum into the Painkiller’s genetic make-up, he introduced a very strong Naval proof Rum to the drink. A Navy Rum is a specific type of rum that must be distilled in wooden pot stills to be  so named. As such, Pusser’s Rum is said to be the original Royal Navy recipe and is a blend of West Indian Rums. Clear and dark amber in color, thanks to use of Wood Pot stills, Pusser’s Rum is 40% alcohol (U.S.) and is a full bodied, very flavorful and deeply aromatic rum.

However, it is the addition of the Pineapple (Ananas comosus) flavor, together with the Pusser’s Rum, which provides the greatest character to the Painkiller’s formulation. More than 280 compounds are known to be involved in generating the characteristic flavor of pineapple, making it one of the most complex ingredients in any cocktail (2). A kissing cousin to the Pina Colada, the Painkiller like the Pina Colada relies on pineapple flavor from pineapple juice to interact with the rum to enhance the fruitful aroma of the cocktail. With a pH of 3.5, Pineapple Juice is mildly acidic which allows for a nice balance of sweet and tart. The tartness comes from the acid properties of the fruit, and the sweetness comes from the sugar properties which are located near the base of the fruit.

While Pineapple Juice may be one of the most complex ingredients to any cocktail, Orange juice made from sweet oranges (Citrus sinensis) is one of the most popular and abundant juice beverages and cocktail ingredients around the world (3). With an acidity level ranging from 3.0-4.0 depending on the type of orange used to make a Painkiller, the orange flavor in the cocktail is also influenced by sugars, pulp, pectin, salts, and phenolic compounds.

In addition to the two juices that are included in the formulation of the Painkiller, the cocktail also includes Cream of Coconut. Cream of Coconut is a sweetened processed coconut milk product. Made with a lot of sugar, the ingredient is often used in cooking to enhance sweetening profiles. Cream of coconut also has a higher fat content than traditional Coconut milk which adds thickening properties to the Painkiller cocktail.

The final ingredient which is added to the Painkiller Cocktail is freshly grated Nutmeg, which is a very flavorful spice. Topping the cocktail off with nutmeg (Myristica fragrans), which is achieved by grinding the seed of the nutmeg into a fine powder, provides a slightly sweet, pungent flavor, and aromatic property to the drink.


The Painkiller is a high calorie cocktail that also has a high sugar content. However, if there is a silver lining to the cocktail from a health angle, there are some relevant health benefits to the cocktail as the drink calls for a fair share of Pineapple juice. Pineapple juice has particularly high levels of vitamin C and Manganese. In addition, pineapples are low in cholesterol, sodium and saturated fat.


(Amount Per 8 Fl oz cocktail)

Calories:                       326

Total Fat:                      4 g

Cholesterol:                0 mg

Sodium:                        17 mg

Total Carbohydrates:    37 g

Dietary Fiber:               0 g

Sugar:                             32 g



The Painkiller is a tropical cocktail that has grown in popularity over the years since it hit the global scene. Enhanced by Pusser’s Rum, a “Navy Strength” rum, it is the combination of all five ingredients that contribute to the overall sweet and rich aromatic profile of the cocktail. While it does indeed lack in the nutritional department compared to other healthier rum cocktails, the Painkiller is still a delightful escape from modern pressures as it will definitely rid the body of any pain that it may be feeling while the fruitful aromas mask the high alcohol content of the cocktail.


  1. Pusser’s Rum. (2019). Pusser’s Painkiller. Retrieved from
  2. Zheng, L., Sun, G., Liu, Y., Lv, L., Yang, W. Zhao, W, and Wei, C. (2012). Aroma Volatile Compounds from Two Fresh Pineapple Varieties in China. International Journal of Molecular Science. 13(6): 7383–7392.
  3. Deterre, S., Leclair, C., Bai, J., Baldwin, E., Narciso, J., and Plotto, A. (2016). Chemical and Sensory Characterization of Orange (Citrus sinensis) Pulp, a by‐Product of Orange Juice Processing Using Gas‐Chromatography‐Olfactometry. Journal of Food Quality. 39 (2016) 826–838.

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